Family, friends, and members of the University community gathered last Thursday at the Memorial Chapel to celebrate the life of Chase Anna Parr ’10, who died in an automobile accident on Dec. 22 while travelling with her parents and sister in Wyoming. Her parents, John Parr, 59, and Sandra Widener, 53, also died in the accident. Her sister, Katy, 17, survived and has been staying with her aunt and uncle in Boise, Idaho while recovering from her injuries.
Participants commemorated Parr’s life through spoken remembrance, poetry, song, and pictures, fittingly eclectic choices for a person remembered equally for her intense love of literature and learning, ever-present soprano voice, and bubbly, warm personality. Several friends commented on the pleasure Parr seemed to take in defying the expectations of others with her multi-faceted personality.
Kendall McKinnon ’10, a very close friend of Parr’s, recalled the joy of watching Parr at parties. Though Parr would be impeccably dressed and effortlessly charismatic, McKinnon recalled how inevitably she would find Parr deep in conversation with a complete stranger. Whoever she was talking to, they seemed surprised at the intellectual enthusiasm and variety of knowledge Parr would be imparting to them.
“The look on their face would always be perplexed and intrigued, and if you got closer you would hear Chase spouting on about how excited she was when she discovered that she had the same birthday as Alexander Hamilton, or the unbelievable research she was doing for her reproduction in technology class, or the new novel she was reading on top of her other ten books for her classes,” said McKinnon.
“I think she always liked the fact that she looked like this tiny little blonde bombshell, but then she was so spunky and so sassy and could sing so loud,” said friend Nora Gilbert ’10. “I think she liked that she had all these little secrets.”
When the accident occurred, Parr and her family were travelling from their home in Denver, Colorado to Boise to visit family for the holidays. According to a Dec. 25 article in The Denver Post, the family was travelling “through blowing snow that sharply reduced visibility and created ground-blizzard conditions” on the morning of Dec. 22 when the family’s Subaru skidded and ended up sideways across the highway. An Acura driving behind the family’s car, attempting to swerve out of the way, hit the Subaru’s front before crashing into the rear of a snowplow ahead of it. An oncoming pickup truck then managed to avoid a collision with the family’s car, but the car was subsequently hit on the driver’s side by a tractor trailer.
Following the crash, Katy was transported to Wyoming Medical Center in Casper. She has since left and is currently staying with her Uncle Bo and Aunt Carol, who is Widener’s sister. Though it currently remains uncertain when she’ll return to Denver, McKinnon said that Katy is recovering quickly and should finish her physical therapy and treatments on Feb. 15. She will turn 18 the following day.
“Katy is physically doing really, really well,” McKinnon said. “Her doctors are all really surprised by how quickly she’s recovering. She had no broken bones. She had a brain injury, but she’s really getting better every day. They don’t think they’ll be any lasting damage.”
Both of Parr’s parents were noted public figures within the Denver area. According to a Dec. 23 article in The Denver Post, John Parr was a Democratic political consultant who had most recently served as a facilitator for a Blue Ribbon Transportation Panel under Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. Sandra Widener co-founded the Denver-based alternative weekly Westword, and formerly reported for The Denver Post’s Sunday magazine, Empire.
Parr graduated from East High School in Denver in 2006. While attending, she participated in a multitude of activities, including playing prominent roles in East High’s productions of “Oklahoma!” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Her love of singing and performance continued to flower at Wesleyan, where Parr participated in numerous extracurricular activities. She was a member of the a cappella group the Mixolydians and participated in both the Ebony Singers and the Wesleyan Concert Choir. She performed in the student-written musical “Orpheus,” and also worked on other theatrical productions backstage. Additionally, she worked for the Red and Black Calling Society, briefly joined the rugby team, and had recently joined the Usdan Center Activities Board.
However, it was her singing that speakers at the memorial service often came back to, remarking both on the beauty of her soprano voice and the little coaxing it took to get her to burst into song. Even those who were not regular attendees of Parr’s musical performances (whether they be staged or impromptu) could not help but notice a musical quality to her voice.
“I did not know that Chase was a singer until quite recently, but I should have deduced it because hers was a voice I remembered after I first heard it, and it lingers in my head: she had a distinct legato, lyrical soprano voice that was always measured, calm, lovely—and forceful in argument when necessary,” said Chair of African American Studies Gayle Pemberton, a favorite professor of Parr’s.
Musical interludes opened and closed the memorial service, with the Mixolydians performing “Ave Maria” and a cappella group the Wesleyan Spirits singing “Steal Away.”
The relative solemnity of the songs combined with the measured energy of the performances reflected the melancholy yet joyful spirit of the service. Muffled sobs and downcast faces intermixed with chuckles of knowing laughter and appreciative smiles. Foregoing the traditional dour attire, attendees were asked to wear bright colors that reflected Parrs’s cheerful personality. The crowd seemed all too happy to comply: pastel yellows, light blues and delicate pinks were plentiful.
Many remembered Parr’s passion for learning, and particularly the joys of losing herself within the pages of a good book. In interviews, several of her friends noted her love of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Gilbert commented with a smile that the novel’s world of upper- crust soirees and elegant prose seemed perfectly attuned to Parr’s tastes.
“It’s just so classy and sassy and perfect,” Gilbert said in an interview. “It’s just Chase, in a nutshell.”
Commenting on Gilbert’s choice to read excerpts of select poems for the service, friend Annie Perretta ’10 reflected that perhaps Parr could be described through poetry because she reflected a bit of the literary world she so adored.
“I thought it was so fitting that Chase fit so easily into written words, into literature, because she was kind of a romantic character,” Perretta said.
If she could easily slip into the world of fiction and fantasy, friend Alice Goldsmith ’10 remarked, that she made sure to not embark on the journey alone.
“She was a hopeless romantic, living very much in the real world, but somehow making the real world seem like a story,” Goldsmith, who spoke at the service, wrote in an e-mail. “She let anyone who knew her escape into her world, or escape with her into another. Because of this, Chase was our escape, our haven from the ordinary to the extraordinary.”
Parr’s bookish introspection seemed to stand side-by-side with her charismatic playfulness: her intelligence no less central to her than her wackiness. McKinnon said that she attempted to capture Parr’s singular personality in the lengthy photo montage she assembled for the service. With artists ranging from Carole King to The Kooks playing in the background, the slide show spanned the gamut from perfectly posed family photos to candid snapshots that capture fleeting moments of unguarded joy.
“I really wanted to show all sides of Chase, because she had so many,” McKinnon said in an interview. “What I wanted to come across was how many people she affected, and all the different parts of her personality.”
Roommates since their first day at Wesleyan and close friends shortly thereafter, she and Parr shared what McKinnon characterized as an intuitive understanding of one another’s personalities. They had a shared love of cooking and entertaining, which resulted in a number of dinner parties held at their sophomore year residence, 344 Washington Street. A group of ten girlfriends would come over to eat, drink and talk, not to mention play at-times very sophisticated games of charades (Gilbert recalled the answer to one charade being the Bolshevik Revolution). Other times, however, sharing a moment of comfortable silence proved just as valuable as the most successful social gathering.
“Our relationship was immediately like she was my sister, except for the fact that we never fought,” McKinnon said. “We could sit alone, just relax and sit in silence and not have to talk to each other. Or, we could spend the entire time telling each other things, non stop. We could sense each other’s needs, and we just knew what we needed.”
Parr’s family and friends could not help but wonder what she would have accomplished had tragedy not struck last month. Friends say she had planned on declaring an American Studies major in the spring, probably with a concentration in literature. She had excitedly discussed working at this summer’s Democratic National Convention, and possibly studying in South Africa.
However, those who knew Parr said the too-brief time they had together would remain all the more precious.
“At times I may feel unlucky for having to lose my best friend before she could even turn twenty, but that will never come remotely close to how lucky I am to have gotten to know and love the most brilliant and beautiful girl that I can imagine exists in this world or any other,” McKinnon said at the service.
Allie Levey ’09, who knew Parr for about a year, echoed such sentiments while delivering his remembrance during the memorial service.
“Some may say that that is too short a time to know or love anyone,” Levey said. “I’ll never believe that.”